Graves spoke with Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. about how automakers can continue to improve in the diversity realm and why forward thinking in the coming years will be key. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: It was good to see some action after Floyd's death, but are you a little sad it took something like that to get many to really open their eyes about inequality?
A: Yes. That's the world we live in. Everything is driven by profit. But I think that George Floyd's murder really made people pause. It's unfortunate that it took that, but he did not die in vain because there has been a response to that. Companies get caught up in making profit, but I think one thing that he did — he redirected them to take principle over profit. You still can make a profit and do the right thing.
What's the main piece that the auto companies need to improve?
Marketing. Spending funds with an increased budget with African American and minority-owned media kind of stands out.
In addition, employment. Companies must have people in the pipeline because even some of the companies that had several minorities and African Americans in leadership, people retire. If you don't have anyone in the pipeline, it takes you a while to get someone in those positions, so I think that is an area that all the companies must be sensitive of, and not waiting until someone retires to fill that pipeline.
Thirdly, it's the dealerships. We rely heavily on [the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers] for the dealerships, and there were only two companies that showed substantial increase. There were some companies that showed minority increases, but it did not include African Americans.
The last time I checked there were over 500 Hispanic dealers, and about 260 to 270 African American dealers. The irony of that is this was an organization that was founded for African Americans. To build a bigger tent, they allowed others to come in — Asian Americans, Native Americans — which is all good. The Asian Americans, I think they're over 200. The idea was to build a bigger tent, but not at the expense of African American dealers. Out of over 1,100 dealers, to only have 265, that is a serious challenge. We've been working with the OEMs to change that paradigm.
Your Nov. 10 conference focused on electric vehicles and the future of the industry. Do you feel like that's a big avenue to bring in more minority talent?
We must prepare our workers because, you know, automation was a big headline in the '60s, but now it's robotics and EVs; it's a different technology work force that must be ready. Not only must the companies be ready, we need to make sure that people of color are in a position for those jobs. It's a lot of technology. I think it does create a lot of opportunities.